Media doesn't always know best

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Media doesn't always know best

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By Mark Humphrey
Monday, April 23, 2007

It's no secret that the news media exercises bad judgment at times.

Granted, we, as journalists, try to make informed decisions about what to cover and how. For example, during summer training at the Daily Bruin, we did a news-judgment exercise involving an actual story.

The story was about a baby who had been murdered by her father, and the story also highlighted how a welfare program had failed the family. The issue was whether to run a photo of a coroner holding a bag that had the baby's body in it - was the photo just simply shocking, or did it further the purpose of the story?

We ultimately decided we would run the photo. Our reasoning was that the photo, while shocking and potentially in poor taste, further hammered home the main point of the story - how social programs had failed this family so terribly.

Judging by the mainstream media's recent coverage of certain events, I think many journalists would do well to take part in this same exercise.

In the past few weeks we've been bombarded by three stories. First came radio douche bag Don Imus' derogatory remarks about the Rutgers women's basketball team. Then came NBC's decision to broadcast Virginia Tech killer Cho Seung-Hui's videotaped rantings. Finally, there came Alec Baldwin's disturbing phone message to his daughter.

Aside from showing the ugly side of humanity, these stories have one thing in common: They were all covered in a misguided fashion.

With Imus, people were right to be up in arms. He defamed a group of talented young women at what was supposed to be their finest moment. Unfortunately, this story got hammered into the ground, filling the airwaves at every single second of the day. Why was this a problem? Because of media hypocrisy.

One of the main reasons the media gave for covering this so relentlessly was to right Imus' wrong: defaming a group of women because of what he thought of their physical appearance.

Yet, by covering this so excessively, Imus' comments have been replayed so many times it's gotten to the point where some would associate the Rutgers women less with basketball and more with Imus. It doesn't matter how untrue his remarks are, as the Rutgers women have almost solely been associated with Don Imus since their season ended because of the media firestorm.

Then there's Alec Baldwin's voice-mail tirade, where he refers to his 11-year-old daughter as a "thoughtless little pig" and vows to "straighten (her) out." Once again, media hypocrisy rears its ugly head. Ironically, so much has been said about the well-being of Baldwin's daughter while the real issue has gone ignored.

Namely, how well does it serve Baldwin's daughter to not only hear her parents' dirty laundry aired in public, but also to hear the phone message repeated on television? Wouldn't most sane people say that divorce hurts children, and that the more public the divorce, the more negative the effect on the child?

Bad news judgment reached its zenith with NBC's decision to air videos made by Virginia Tech killer Cho Seung-Hui. Naturally, the videos are all over YouTube.

Not only was the decision to air these videos in poor taste, but it didn't serve any purpose from a news standpoint. These videos added no new information and, more importantly, gave Cho exactly what he wanted: attention. Cho died, but NBC's airing of his videos got his message out to everyone.

In journalism, as much as some hate to admit it, the bottom line is still the bottom line. NBC aired these videos to get a jump on the competition, just like every news outlet jumped on them immediately afterward. Anyone who's shocked when the media does something sensational is hopelessly naive. If it bleeds, it leads and, more importantly, makes money.

When the media covers stories like this, it often claims moral superiority. It proclaims outrage and to know what is best for everyone. But if the way these situations have played out is any indication, it's clear that much of the time, the media doesn't have a clue.

While I'm often disgusted by what gets covered and how, I can't begrudge the news media for making a living.

But if they're going to proclaim they know what is best for everyone, they should think about who their coverage is really hurting first.

--

Original Source:<a href=http://www.dailybruin.ucla.edu/news/2007/apr/23/imedia_doesnt_always_know_besti/>The Daily Bruin - April 23, 2007</a>

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Mark Humphrey

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2007-07-15

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Sara Hood

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Saba Riazati <editor@media.ucla.edu>

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eng

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Mark Humphrey , "Media doesn&#39;t always know best," in The April 16 Archive, Item #721, http://www.april16archive.org/items/show/721 (accessed July 22, 2014).